Ideas suck

Ideas hold a powerful place in today’s culture. From eureka moments to TED talks, wherever there is a problem, a fully packaged idea is seen as the solution. All we need to do is conjure ideas up and, hey presto, problem solved.

Even the word idea is positively embedded into our language, we look for an “idea whose time has come”, we’re encouraged to “bounce ideas off each other”, we even admire yet-to-be-formed-ideas by applauding the “spark of an idea”. Ideas are simply seen as the raw material from which we build a prosperous future.

It’s not surprising that ideas are so celebrated. When something works it’s easy to draw a line back to an “original idea”. And in the age of the entrepreneur, tracing ideas back to a single source is the stuff of myth making.

But this glorification of ideas focuses our attention in the wrong place. Ideas are not the raw material of innovation that they seem to be. It’s true that ideas are the end product of a process of ideation. And it’s true that Fun Fridays, Idea Competitions, Ideation Workshops or whatever process you adopt, lend credibility to ideas, reinforcing the belief that going through an ideation process will necessarily develop the best ideas for the future of our businesses. But, in reality that’s not the case.

As most of us have experienced, the failure rate for ideas generated through ideation, having had huge resources spent on them, and then been dragged onto the market, can be huge – over 90% according to research. This high failure rate varies depending on what industry you’re in, but the reason is that ideas simply don’t serve real pressing needs or desires – they don’t carry customer value. Most ideas are developed from an inside-out perspective. This means that they are based on the assets a company has, not the job the customer want’s to get done.

It’s important here to understand that the tools, techniques and systems used to generate ideas are powerful, and because they are powerful, they actually do harm when they’re misused or misguided. It’s not really the tools that are the problem, it’s their misguided use in idea focused activities.

Think of ideas as you might think of people with their own personalities, they come in all shapes and sizes and have a life of their own. We fall in love with ideas, we fear ideas, we become fixated on them and we can even be hijacked by them. What we hope for from the ideation process is to develop an idea or a group of ideas that we can trust to meet the opportunities and challenges we believe we are facing. What we often get is something quite different.

So what is it that you really need to raise the chance of success on the market and meet the opportunities and challenges of today and tomorrow? To really innovate brilliantly, you need to gain knowledge about customers – the actual people and organisations that sustain your business – so you can fulfil their needs and desires. And it’s not ideas that gives you that knowledge, it’s insights.

Insights are the real raw material of innovation. Insights pull you toward relevant solutions whereas ideas push you in any direction they want. Insights carry profound and unique knowledge about customers and their spoken and unspoken needs and desires. This knowledge is built up by observing customers in a multitude of ways. In fact it’s not until you have a solid and real insight that you should even begin thinking in terms of ideas. People without solid insights shouldn’t be allowed to ideate. It really is as simple as that.

Proactively and systematically uncovering insights won’t guarantee a breakthrough, because as we know, there are no guarantees in life. Insights will, however, radically increase the chances of a successful breakthrough in your innovation performance and bring about a higher return on your innovation investments, and this dramatically increases your chances of measurable and repeatable success on the market.

Another vital and valuable benefit of insights is they solve other more intangible and internal cultural problems. Insights reduce the “not invented here” syndrome and that in itself helps you to promote a healthier and more sustainable approach to innovation. Insights radically reduce peoples resistance because they are not thought out solutions and are therefore not threatening. And in some way insights reflect a more honest process that happens when innovating, that being, that innovation is most often the work of a whole lot of different people carefully and systematically producing results, and not so often the result of a single genius having a eureka idea.

To gain further insights into how to build and strengthen your innovation process, get in touch to see how we can help you. We’ve been pioneering the professionalisation of innovation since 2000 to become one of the worlds leading innovation consultancies. Amplify has developed and implemented unique innovation services that deliver immediate and long-term sustainable value, together with clients such as BMW, Siemens, Ericsson and AstraZeneca. Amplify also trains hundreds of new innovation managers on an annual basis, through their own programs and together with major international executive schools.

Professionalising innovation with Amplify means proactively embracing today and tomorrow.

Gunnar Storfeldt

Gunnar Storfeldt

Stockholm, Sweden

Managing Director

With a focus on crafting innovation strategies and reinventing business models, Gunnar has helped boost business performance in both startups and established internationals.

Phone: +46 702 653 120

See more videos

Would you like to join the conversation or just know a little more?

AmpLab generates crystal clear dialogue to support everyone's capacity to renew themselves and their organisations with a fresh approach to innovation.


Create an immediate impact through new value creation, and raise your sustainable innovation performance with professional capabilities.

Innovation activities must be treated as any other mission-critical activity. It’s about knowing how and when to do it – but also when not to innovate. Build a strong professional foundation using a proactive and systematic way of working.

The freshest most innovative thinking on the web

Sign up for our newsletter here.